Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book: Sustainable Energy - Without The Hot Air

David MacKay, the future government energy adviser and professor at Cambridge University's department of physics, warns us in his new book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air that plans for energy production in the future will not come fast and will not come cheap.

We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%. And this is unsustainable for three reasons. First, easily-accessible fossil fuels will at some point run out, so we’ll eventually have to get our energy from someplace else. Second, burning fossil fuels is having a measurable and very-probably dangerous effect on the climate. Avoiding dangerous climate change motivates an immediate change from our current use of fossil fuels. Third, even if we don’t care about climate change, a drastic reduction in Britain’s fossil fuel consumption would seem a wise move if we care about security of supply: continued rapid use of the oil and gas reserves will otherwise soon force fossil-addicted Britain to depend on imports from untrustworthy foreigners.

We need a plan that adds up. The good news is that such plans can be made. The bad news is that implementing them will not be easy.

Part I – Numbers, not adjectives

The first half of this book discusses whether a country like the United Kingdom, famously well endowed with wind, wave, and tidal resources, could live on its own renewables. We often hear that Britain’s renewables are “huge.” But it’s not sufficient to know that a source of energy is “huge.” We need to know how it compares with another “huge,” namely our huge consumption. To make such comparisons, we need numbers, not

Where numbers are used, their meaning is often obfuscated by enormousness. Numbers are chosen to impress, to score points in arguments, rather than to inform. In contrast, my aim here is to present honest, factual numbers in such a way that the numbers are comprehensible, comparable, and memorable. The numbers are made accessible by expressing them all in everyday personal units. Energies are expressed as quantities per person in kilowatt-hours (kWh), the same units that appear on household energy bills; and powers are expressed in kilowatt-hours per day(kWh/d), per person.

Part I of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air builds up an illustrative red consumption stack, enumerating the energy cost of a range of energy-consuming activities; and a complete green stack, adding up all the potential renewable resources available in Britain.

The first half gives two clear conclusions. First, for any renewable facility to make an appreciable contribution – a contribution at all comparable to our current consumption – it has to be country-sized.

Second, if economic constraints and public objections are set aside, it would be possible for the average European energy consumption of 125 kWh/d per person to be provided from these country-sized renewable sources. The two hugest contributors would be photovoltaic panels, which, covering 5% or 10% of the country, would provide 50 kWh/d per person; and offshore wind farms, which, filling a sea-area twice the size of Wales, would provide another 50 kWh/d per person on average.

Such an immense panelling of the countryside and filling of British seas with wind machines (having a capacity five times greater than all the wind turbines in the world today) may be possible according to the laws of physics, but would the public accept and pay for such extreme arrangements? If we answer no, we are forced to conclude that current consumption will never be met by British renewables. We require either a radical reduction in consumption, or signficant additional sources of energy – or, of course, both.

Part II – Energy plans that add up

The second part of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air explores six strategies for eliminating the gap between consumption and renewable production identified in the first part, then sketches several energy plans for Britain, each of which adds up.

The first three strategies for eliminating the gap reduce energy demand:
  • population reduction;
  • lifestyle change;
  • changing to more efficient technology.
The other strategies for eliminating the gap increase energy supply:
  • “Sustainable fossil fuels” and “clean coal” are names given to carrying on burning coal, but in a different way, with carbon capture and storage. What power could we get from coal, “sustainably”?
  • Nuclear power is another controversial option; is it just a stop-gap?
  • A third way to get extra carbon-free power would be to live on renewable energy from other countries – in particular, countries blessed with plentiful sunshine, large areas, and low population densities. What is the realistic potential of the Sahara desert?
Part III and Part IV

The third part of the book drills down to the physical foundations of energy consumption and energy production. Eight appendices show from first principles where the numbers in the first two parts come from.

The final sixteen pages of the book contain further reference data and conversion factors, useful for applying the book’s ideas to other countries, and for translating to and from units used by other organizations.

This is a free book. David MacKay didn't write this book to make money. He wrote it because sustainable energy is important. If you would like to have the book for free for your own use, please help yourself to any of the electronic versions on this website.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adolfo Doring: Blind Spot - Energy Crash Movie

BLIND SPOT is a documentary that establishes the inextricable link between the energy we use, the way we run our economy and the effect it has had on our environment. It takes as a starting point the inevitable energy depletion scenario know as Peak Oil to inform us that by whatever measure of greed, wishful thinking, neglect or ignorance, we are at a crossroad which offers two paths, both with dire consequences. If we continue to burn fossil fuels our ecology will collapse and if we don’t, our economy will. Either path we choose to take will have a profound effect on our way of life.

While climate change may have been catapulted from a fringe issue to a mainstream one, the same is not yet true for peak oil. What does it take to drag these tough topics into full public view? The glaring light of a movie camera seems quite effective. Of course, just as certain fictional film styles are not to everyone’s taste, issue documentaries have their critics too. One cheeky writer, reviewing The Age of Stupid, recently asked: “Is it climate change or eco-films that we need saving from?” Now, whether or not you enjoy watching celebrities like Al Gore or listening to a parade of experts, the genre is getting hot for a reason: a growing number of well-informed people from various disciplines want us all to face up to some proven inconvenient truths. In the case of Blind Spot, the subject of this review, the hard fact presented is that when (not if) peak oil happens, “it will change virtually everything about how we live in the modern world.” The interesting twist to this documentary is that the psychological aspects of how we got here are also brought to light. The film shows how we have been so conditioned by a society centered on an oil-based economic system that we are now simply creatures of habit, constantly consuming while ignoring the implications, which we relegate to a dark corner of our mind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rethinking Urban Planning - Resilient City

Today’s cities are fully dependent on fossil fuels. Their economies, food supplies, public and private transportation, heating and cooling systems, and the production of materials to build them, are all energy intensive and fossil fuel dependent. Cities need to prepare for peak oil and the energy crisis. is a website focused on developing creative, practical, and implementable urban planning and building design strategies that address our century's most important challenge: namely, dealing with the significant problems that will be associated with global warming and peak oil in the context of continued and unsustainable global population growth. has three goals:
  • FIRST: To raise awareness about the combined challenges of Global Warming and Peak Oil in the context of continued and unsustainable global population growth - and the radical changes these will require to how we plan cities and design buildings.
  • SECOND: To stimulate a critical shift in planning and design thinking, leading to the development and implementation of appropriately “resilient” urban planning and building design strategies.
  • THIRD: In the service of the first two goals, to compile a freely available set of resilient planning and design resources — including web links, research references, and planning and design exemplars.

Resilient Urban Planning

Planning to effectively meet the conditions and realities of a Post Carbon, Climate Responsible world will require a shift in our current understanding of what constitutes good urban design and planning. Many of the practices that we now take for granted, such as planning cities around automobile transportation, or zoning for single uses, will no longer be appropriate or economically feasible. To address the changes in urban design and planning, we have assembled the following principles for urban design and planning in a post-carbon, climate responsive building environment.

The following Urban Design Principles are all predicated on the assumption that in the future fossil fuels will all be scarcer and more expensive, and that national and local governments will have begun to address global climate change with various types of carbon taxation or rationing strategies. As a result we will be living in a de-powering world were urban planning must reflect this reality.
  • Neighbourhood Structure
  • Neighbourhood Food Supply
  • Neighbourhood Water Supply and Management
  • Neighbourhood Electrical Power Supply and Management
  • Neighbourhood District Heating
  • Neighbourhood Waste Reprocessing welcomes contributions from architects, urban planners, engineers, landscape architects and environmental scientists. The site is moderated by Toronto architect and urban designer, Craig Applegath. The site makes the case for urgency, and suggests pathways and strategies for collective action.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nature Special: Planetary Boundaries - Limits of the Earth

To avoid catastrophic environmental change humanity must stay within defined 'planetary boundaries' for a range of essential Earth-system processes, argue Johan Rockström and his co-authors in a Nature Feature. If one boundary is transgressed, then safe levels for other processes could also be under serious risk, they caution. Seven expert commentaries respond to this proposal in Nature Reports Climate Change.

The inner green shading in the above figure represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle), have already been exceeded.

Planetary Boundaries

Identifying and quantifying planetary boundaries that must not be transgressed could help prevent human activities from causing unacceptable environmental change, argue Johan Rockström and colleagues in A safe operating space for humanity in Nature.

The scientists first identified the Earth System processes and potential biophysical thresholds, which, if crossed, could generate unacceptable environmental change for humanity. They then proposed the boundaries that should be respected in order to reduce the risk of crossing these thresholds.

Nine boundaries were identified including climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading and chemical pollution.

The study suggests that three of these boundaries (climate change, biological diversity and nitrogen input to the biosphere) may already have been transgressed. In addition, it emphasizes that the boundaries are strongly connected — crossing one boundary may seriously threaten the ability to stay within safe levels of the others.

The Road To Copenhagen

In December this year, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will descend on Copenhagen to wrangle over the details of a new global climate deal — a potential successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

As the world moves along the road to Copenhagen, Nature will be covering every aspect of the science and politics of climate change in articles that will be collected here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oil & Gas Reserves Fall Despite Record Spending in 2009

The worldwide upstream investment of 232 oil and gas companies increased 21 percent to $492 billion in 2008, according to the 2009 Global Upstream Performance Review, released by oil and gas research firm IHS Herold Inc. and upstream corporate advisor Harrison Lovegrove & Co. Ltd., a Standard Chartered group company. Despite record development spending, up 23 percent from 2008, worldwide oil and gas reserve replacement rates fell in 2008 to 88 percent of production, the first year since 2004 in which production was not replaced. Total worldwide oil and gas reserves were 0.4 percent lower at year end 2008 as a 3 percent increase in gas reserves was more than offset by a 4.4 billion barrel decline in oil reserves.

Help! They Can't Find Any More Oil! - reports The Business Insider on the IHS Herold Study.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heat Storage at Drake Landing Solar Community

The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) is a master planned neighbourhood in Canada that has successfully integrated energy efficient technologies with a renewable, unlimited energy source - the sun.

The first of its kind in North America, DLSC is heated by a district system designed to store abundant solar energy underground during the summer months and distribute the energy to each home for space heating needs during winter months.

The system is unprecedented in the World, fulfilling most of each home’s space heating requirements from solar energy and resulting in less dependency on fossil fuels.

A typical Canadian home's energy requirement can be broken down into 60% for space heating, 20% for domestic hot water heating and 20% for appliances, lights, and other. Estimates for homes in the Drake Landing Solar Community indicate that, in a typical year, over 90% of the energy used for space heating will come from solar energy. Even in an unusually cold winter and spring, 80% of the required heat is expected to come from the sun.

Seasonal Heat Storage

The Drake Landing Solar Community use a borehole thermal energy storage (BTES) system for storing large quantities of solar heat collected in summer for use later in winter. It is basically a large, underground heat exchanger.

A BTES consists of an array of boreholes resembling standard drilled wells. After drilling, a plastic pipe with a “U” bend at the bottom is inserted down the borehole. To provide good thermal contact with the surrounding soil, the borehole is then filled with a high thermal conductivity grouting material.

The BTES in the Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) consists of 144 boreholes, each stretching to a depth of 37 meters and planned in a grid with 2.25 meters between them. The BTES field covers 35 metres in diameter. At the surface, the U-pipes are joined together in groups of six that radiate from the center to the outer edge, and then connect back to the Energy Centre building. The entire BTES field is then covered in a layer of insulation and then soil – with a landscaped park built on top.

When solar heated water is available to be stored, it is pumped into the centre of the BTES field and through the U-pipe series. Heat is transferred to the surrounding soil and rock, and the water gradually cools as it reaches the outer edge and returns to the Energy Centre.

Conversely, when the homes require heat, cooler water is pumped into the edges of the BTES field and as the water flows to the centre it picks up heat. The heated water passes to the short-term storage tank in the Energy Centre and is then circulated to the homes through the district heating loop. All pumps and control valves are housed in the neighbouring Energy Centre building.

Even with sunny Alberta weather, it will take approximately three years to fully charge the BTES field. In the first years of operation, the field will operate at relatively low temperatures, and the recoverable energy will be largely depleted before the end of the heating season. However, after a few years of operation, the core temperature of the BTES field will approach 80°C by the end of summer, with sufficient heat for almost an entire heating season.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Heat Storage Technologies: Markets, Actors, Potentials

The objective of the project on policy reinforcement concerning heat storage technologies (PREHEAT) is to provide the industry and decision makers in the EU with a reference framework to maximize the environmental, commercial and economic benefits of the main heat storage technologies for renewables and to increase the attention and funding possibilities for heat storage technologies implementation. On the long term, PREHEAT aims at a coherent European promotion program with a collective approach by the industry, R&D institutions and other market actors. This will lead to a substantially increased utilization of renewable energy, and an increase in rational use of energy.

The scope of PREHEAT is mainly heat storage technologies for small-scale renewable energy technologies in Europe. The main applications considered in PREHEAT are solar thermal systems, biomass stand-alone boilers and biomass driven heating networks.

The Heat storage technologies: markets, actors, potentials report describes and identifies the present and future national and EU market segments for heat storage technologies, and gives an indication of the most promising heat storage technologies from the market point of view, focusing on small scale RES.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The End of Suburbia

Since World War II North Americans have invested much of their newfound wealth in suburbia. It has promised a sense of space, affordability, family life and upward mobility. As the population of suburban sprawl has exploded in the past 50 years, so too has the suburban way of life become embedded in the American consciousness.

Suburbia, and all it promises, has become the American Dream.

But as we enter the 21st century, serious questions are beginning to emerge about the sustainability of this way of life. With brutal honesty and a touch of irony, The End of Suburbia explores the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet approaches a critical era, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply. World Oil Peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, some scientists and policy makers argue in this documentary.

The consequences of inaction in the face of this global crisis are enormous. What does Oil Peak mean for North America? As energy prices skyrocket in the coming years, how will the populations of suburbia react to the collapse of their dream? Are today's suburbs destined to become the slums of tomorrow? And what can be done NOW, individually and collectively, to avoid The End of Suburbia ?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Oil Age - World Oil Production 1859-2050

The Oil Age Poster is a brilliant tool for examining the geologic realities and social ramifications of the modern world's most prized resource.

Colorful and authoritative, this poster traces the history of the Oil Age from its beginnings in the hills of western Pennsylvania in 1859 to its rise as the engine of global industrial economies. The poster's main chart features a year-by-year rendering of worldwide oil production from 1859 to 2050 with projections of future production based on Colin Campbell's Oil Depletion Model. Historical annotations as well as detailed data on production, trade and reserves make this poster a versatile tool for presenting the realities and implications of global oil production and its impending peak.

The primary goal of The Oil Age poster is to increase awareness of the critical role of oil in modern industrial society and to call attention to the impending worldwide peak in oil production. Although it is not up to date (updated in 2005) it is still a great tool for this purpose.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Future is All About Resilience

Asher Miller has recently gave a presentation about resilience. He became the Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute in October 2008, after having served as the manager of the Relocalization Network.

His presentation sets out Transition Towns as a response to the converging crises in the economy, energy and the environment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Age of Stupid - Global Premiere

'The Age of Stupid' is the new cinema documentary from the Director of 'McLibel' and the Producer of the Oscar-winning 'One Day in September'. This enormously ambitious drama-documentary-animation hybrid stars Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055, watching 'archive' footage from 2008 and asking: why didn't we stop climate change while we had the chance?

The frightening vision of the near future depicted in The Age of Stupid is not science fiction.

The world in which the Archivist lives is the clearly visible destination of present - 'business as usual' (BAU) - policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we get there in 2055 or 2075, we don't need to do anything different from what we are doing today to arrive in the terrifying future shown in our film.

The Global Premiere of The Age of Stupid

One week from now on September 21st / 22nd, on the eve of the UN General Assembly's climate session, The Age of Stupid will be launched internationally at the biggest and greenest live film event the world has ever seen. A-list celebrities will walk the green carpet to a solar powered cinema tent in downtown New York, linked by satellite to 700 cinemas in 50+ countries.

As an INclusive, rather than EXclusive event, everyone is invited to go to their local theatre to watch the VIPs arrive in Manhattan by bike, rickshaw, electric car and sailing boat, before braving the paparazzi on the green carpet (made from recycled soda bottles). Following the screening of The Age of Stupid, there will be a further 40 minute event featuring Kofi Annan, Gillian Anderson, Mary Robinson, the film's director Franny Armstrong, the star of the film Pete Postlethwaite and other leading thinkers, celebrities and political figures from around the world. There will be live music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and satellite links to scientists working in the Indonesian Rainforest and at the melting glaciers in the Himalayas. A group of children will speak from the very room in Copenhagen in which all our futures will be decided at the UN climate summit in December.

The scientific basis of "The Age of Stupid" By Mark Lynas
  • Mark is the author of "High Tide" and "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", both published by Harper Collins and translated into more than a dozen languages
  • Winner of the 2008 Royal Society Prize for Best Science Book ("Six Degrees")
  • Climate change supervisor on the film's production, 2002->2008
The opening text card of Spanner Films' new film, The Age of Stupid, makes the claim that the film is based on "mainstream science predictions". This is more than just a rhetorical device to make the film seem realistic: we mean it. This is not The Day After Tomorrow 2, a cinema spectacular featuring climatic events which are so unrealistic that they contravene the laws of physics. All the science in the film is based on peer-reviewed papers, together with the latest predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the world's biggest-ever consortium of scientists.

The bottom line is that the mainstream scientific predictions about what will happen in the next few decades are so frightening that we didn't need to exaggerate for dramatic effect.

The film is set in 2055, a little less than half a century on from today. Pete Postlethwaite plays a man living alone in a devastated future, looking back at our world of today and asking why we didn't save ourselves when we still had time. His character is not the last survivor, as is often misquoted: groups of individuals are seen in the devastated scenes preceding Pete's introduction and the camera pans past a large, populated refugee camp. Many people are left alive, but there has clearly been a collapse in both the human population and the structures of civilization we know today.

In the world depicted in the film, the inhabitants are suffering the results of all the cumulative emissions that we have already put into the atmosphere (between the start of the industrial revolution in1850 and today, 2009), plus additional emissions which will have been added over the future decades - during which, according to the conceit of the film, humanity continued with its business-as-usual fossil fuel use and did not make dramatic emission reductions.

Over the last decade or so, the rate of emissions increase has nearly tripled. We are currently on, or a little above, (depending on whose figures you use) the IPCC's worst-case emissions scenario - here, today, in the real world. The film is pessimistic in the sense that it examines in imaginary hindsight from the vantage point of 2055 why humanity failed to reduce its emissions - but, more than fifteen years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, we should already be asking this question. From a policy-as-usual perspective, it is a reasonable supposition that we will probably keep on failing. (This is not to suggest fatalism or denial: the film is a clear cautionary tale, and one which is already backed up by a campaigning effort aimed at inspiring its viewers to become climate activists: 'Not Stupid',

Given that the temperature change is realistic, how realistic are the impacts portrayed resulting from it? The opening sequence may raise some eyebrows: London is flooded and silent, the Sydney Opera House is shown against a backdrop of raging flames, the Matterhorn in Switzerland is denuded of snow, and Las Vegas is buried in shifting desert sands. Surely these are all exaggerations? Sorry, they're not.

Suffice to say that the social collapse scenario is realistic enough to be being taken seriously by the military in both America and other countries. One of the reasons why Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was in acknowledgement of the fact that if efforts to reduce climate-changing emissions fail, global warming will be one of the main drivers of human conflict in decades ahead as resources dwindle and competition increases. The Age of Stupid looks at precisely this world - where efforts to reduce emissions have failed, temperatures are soaring, and humans are battling it out for the scraps of civilisation.

We should not take this analysis too far, however. The Age of Stupid is a creative, artistic work, presenting an imaginary future. It is not a filmed version of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. We expect scientists and everyone else who watches it to have different reactions. Some may love it, and be moved by it; others may hate it and refuse to accept its lessons. All we ask is that you do not dismiss it - and thereby deny your own responsibility to act - on the basis that it is 'alarmist' or unscientific. I'm afraid that is simply not true.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

EU Energy and Environment Report 2008

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is an agency of the European Union. Its task is to provide sound, independent information on the environment. The EEA is a major information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public.

The Energy and Environment Report assesses the key drivers, environmental pressures and some impacts from the production and consumption of energy, taking into account the main objectives of the European policy on energy and environment including: security of supply, competitiveness, increased energy efficiency and renewable energy, and environmental sustainability. The report addresses the following six main policy questions and presents trends existing within the EU compared to other countries.
  • What is the impact of energy production and use on the environment?
  • What are the trends concerning the energy mix in Europe and what are its related environmental consequences?
  • How rapidly are renewable technologies being implemented?
  • Is the European energy production system becoming more efficient?
  • Are environmental costs reflected adequately in the energy price?
  • What are the energy consumption trends in households, and what policies exist to improve energy efficiency?
The full report is available on Europe's Energy Portal.

Energy Efficiency in Europe

Reducing energy consumption and eliminating energy wastage are among the main goals of the European Union (EU). EU support for improving energy efficiency will prove decisive for competitiveness, security of supply and for meeting the commitments on climate change made under the Kyoto Protocol. There is significant potential for reducing consumption, especially in energy-intensive sectors such as buildings, manufacturing, energy conversion and transport. At the end of 2006, the EU pledged to cut its annual consumption of primary energy by 20% by 2020. To achieve this goal, it is working to mobilise public opinion, decision-makers and market operators and to set minimum energy efficiency standards and rules on labelling for products, services and infrastructure.

The EU has set new energy efficiency requirements that lamps produced for the EU market need to fulfill as from 1 September 2009. Traditional incandescent and halogen bulbs will be gradually phased out from the market by the end of 2012. However, particular care was taken to ensure that consumers will find lamp alternatives either offering the same light quality or higher energy savings.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Selling Our Future?

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester R. Brown at the Earth Policy Institute is the substantially revised edition of Plan B 3.0.

Excerpts from the preface:

From time to time I go back and read about earlier civilizations that declined and collapsed, trying to understand the reasons for their demise. More often than not shrinking food supplies were responsible. Does our civilization face a similar fate? Until recently it did not seem possible. I resisted the idea that food shortages could also bring down our early twenty-first century global civilization. But our continuing failure to reverse the environmental trends that are undermining the world food economy forces me to conclude that if we continue with business as usual such a collapse is not only possible but likely.

Food: The Weak Link

As the world struggles to feed all its people, farmers are facing several trying trends. On the demand side of the food equation are three consumption-boosting trends: population growth, the growing consumption of grain-based animal protein, and, most recently, the massive use of grain to fuel cars.

On the supply side, several environmental and resource trends are making it more difficult to expand food production fast enough. Among the ongoing ones are soil erosion, aquifer depletion, crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets and rising sea level, and the melting of the mountain glaciers that feed major rivers and irrigation systems. In addition, three resource trends are affecting our food supply: the loss of cropland to non-farm uses, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, and the coming reduction in oil supplies.

The question — at least for now — is not will the world grain harvest continue to expand, but will it expand fast enough to keep pace with steadily growing demand. Business as usual is no longer a viable option. Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries collectively mobilize to stabilize population, stabilize climate, stabilize aquifers, conserve soils, protect cropland, and restrict the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

Plan B — A Plan to Save Civilization

Plan B is the alternative to business as usual. Its goal is to move the world from the current decline and collapse path onto a new path where food security can be restored and civilization can be sustained. Just as the trends that are behind the current deterioration in the food situation go far beyond agriculture itself, so too must the response. In times past it was the Ministry of Agriculture that held the key to expanding agricultural research, expanding credit to farmers, and all the other obvious things that fall within its province, but securing future food supplies now depends on the mobilization of our entire society.

For these reasons Plan B is far more ambitious than anything the world has ever undertaken, an initiative that has no precedent in either scale or urgency. It has four components: cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilizing population at 8 billion or lower, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth’s natural systems, including its soils, aquifers, forests, grasslands, and fisheries. The ambitiousness of this plan is not driven by perceived political feasibility but by scientific reality.

The challenge is not only to build a new economy but to do it at wartime speed before we miss so many of nature’s deadlines that the economic system begins to unravel. Participating in the construction of this enduring new economy is exhilarating. So is the quality of life it will bring. A world where population has stabilized, forests are expanding, and carbon emissions are falling is within our grasp.descent bulb but would use only one fourth as much electricity.

Check out Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization book on the Web site of the Earth Policy Institute.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hirsch: We’ve got a very serious problem

Robert L. Hirsch is the lead author of a seminal report–Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management—written for the US Dept. of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE, NETL) and released in early 2005. He has remained very active with respect to his concerns about peak oil. ASPO-USA’s Steve Andrews tracked him down last week and posed some questions about the report, then and now. Bob will be a presenter at the ASPO-USA conference in Denver next month (October 11-13).

Question: Given where we are today, if you were made energy czar, what policy initiatives would you pursue?

Hirsch: If I was involved in the government at a high level, I would argue very strongly to the president that he needs to take national and international leadership on the problem. He should do some homework to be sure that he hears what the issues are — do it quietly — and then stand up and say, “world and country, we’ve got a very serious problem and here is what my administration is going to do about it.” That’s what I would argue for because somebody has to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. That’s going to be very difficult because people don’t like to hear bad news, and this is terrible news, and as it sinks in, markets will drop and there will be an immediate recessionary reaction, because people will realize that this is such a horrendous problem that having a positive outlook on employment and the economy is just simply unrealistic.

Question: Any final thought?

Hirsch: I’ve tried to think outside the box in terms of how we get the message out and get people’s attention. I found nothing that I could do that I’m not already doing, except write a book, which we’ve just started. But other people have other thoughts, opportunities, and connections, so I would urge them to conceive of ways to rationally and reasonably get more decision-makers involved in 1) recognizing the problem and 2) helping to elevate it to the highest levels of government, so serious action can begin.

Check out the full interview on ASPO USA: Interview with Bob Hirsch - The Stonewalling of Peak Oil.

Monday, September 7, 2009

$200 oil forecast by 2010?

In an interview with Rigzone Jeff Rubin believes that oil prices are going to escalate much higher. In his book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, Rubin foretells $200 oil and a vastly transformed global economic picture coming into focus very soon.

The chief economist at CIBC World Markets in Canada for 20 years, Rubin correctly predicted the price of oil reaching $50 in 2005 and $100 in 2007. No one believed him then, either.

"There continues to be widespread skepticism regarding my oil price forecast," Rubin told Rigzone. "As I noted in the book, few people have ever changed their minds during the entire history of the peak oil debate, at least insofar as 'experts' are concerned."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Life Cycle Assessment of Biofuels

ESU-services Ltd. has been founded in 1998. Its core objectives are research, consulting, review and training in the fields of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the sectors energy, basic minerals, materials, food and lifestyles and of Substance Flow Analysis (SFA).

They have published case studies about the life cycle impact of biomass energy systems:
How far can a person get with fuel from 0.5 ha (a soccer field)?
  • Depending on the car: 5’000 – 30’000 km per soccer field
  • By bicycle and food: 12’500 km (veal), 65‘000 km (wine), 400‘000 km (wheat), 600’000 km (potatoes)
Ecoinvent Database

The ecoinvent database offered by ESU Services contains life cycle inventory data of energy (electricity, oil, coal, natural gas, biomass, biofuels, bioenergy, hydro power, nuclear power, photovoltaics, wind power, biogas), materials (chemicals, metals, minerals, plastics, paper, biomass, biomaterials), waste management (incineration, landfill, waste water treatment), transports (road, rail, air, ship), agricultural products and processes, electronics, metals processing, and building ventilation.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index reveals the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered. The index combines environmental impact with human well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives.

The HPI is an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives. The second compilation of the global HPI, published in July 2009, shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable well-being and puts forward a vision of what we need to do to get there.

The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the Index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible.

The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being, and that it is possible to produce high well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. It also reveals that there are different routes to achieving comparable levels of well-being. The model followed by the West can provide widespread longevity and variable life satisfaction, but it does so only at a vast and ultimately counter-productive cost in terms of resource consumption.

On a scale of 0 to 100 for the HPI, we have a target for nations to aspire to by 2050 of 89. This is based on attainable levels of life expectancy and well-being and a reasonably-sized ecological footprint.

Based on the results of HPI 2.0, published in July 2009, the highest HPI score is only 76.1, scored by Costa Rica. The lowest, and perhaps less surprising than some other results, is Zimbabwe’s at 16.6. No country achieves an overall high score and no country does well on all three indicators. Costa Rica, for example, has an ecological of life expectancy at 69 years.

The message is that when we measure the efficiency with which countries enable the fundamental inputs of natural resources to be turned into the ultimate ends of long and happy lives, all can do better.

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more’ (by Thomas Friedman - ‘The inflection is near?’ The New York Times, 8 March 2009).

Download the new report The Happy Planet Index 2.0: Why good lives don’t have to cost the Earth.

What can you get from a global hectare?

A global hectare is the same as 10,000m2. Based on calculations by the US NGO Redefining Progress, 1000m2, one-tenth of a global hectare, can get you one of the following:
  • 288kg of fruit and veg (9% above the US annual average per-head consumption)
  • 20kg of cheese (35% above US annual average)
  • 178 litres of milk (72% above US annual average)
  • 8kg of beef (average US consumption over 15 weeks)
  • 10kg of local only beef
  • 7kg of fish (US annual average)
  • 125 bottles of imported wine (three times US average)
  • 350 330ml bottles of imported beer
  • 990 pints of locally produced beer
  • 18 medium chickens (1.6kg each)
  • 258 baguettes (made from local wheat)
  • 440kWh of electricity (based on mix of energy with 5% renewables; would cost £65, and is what average American uses in six weeks)
  • A 10-mile round-trip city commute by saloon car every working day for two months OR a round trip, by car, from London to Newcastle.
  • A desktop computer with a 20” screen, keyboard and small deskjet printer, but not the energy to run it.
To achieve one planet living under current trade, economic and energy production systems, each individual would need to restrict themselves to a total of 21 such portions of consumption per year. Of course, with more locally produced food and goods, and more renewable energy generation, each individual could consume more.